Thursday, January 3, 2013
What should have stayed in Vegas! - Real Life Hangover
In a marriage as short as Frank the Tank's marriage in Old School (and 21 days shorter than Kim Kardashian's second marriage), a physician ended up paying one year of alimony for a two month marriage.
The story-line of T.E. v. A.O is right out of the movies involving a husband who went to Las Vegas five days before his wedding in October 2008 and while there charged over $20,000 at a "men's club" and met a woman who he then began an intimate relationship with. Upon his return from Las Vegas, the parties were married on October 4, 2008 in a wedding that cost approximately $150,000. In clear violation of the Vegas marketing campaign, soon after the wedding, the wife learned of the extravagant Las Vegas charges and of the husband's ongoing relationship with the woman he met in Las Vegas. Ultimately this discovery led to the breakdown of their marriage and a trip to Massachusetts divorce court.
Prior to the Alimony Reform Act of 2011, alimony in Massachusetts was governed by M.G.L. c. 208 s. 34, which considered numerous factors in awarding alimony including conduct of the parties during the marriage. Although, in the case of T.E. v. A.O. the most significant conduct in the case occurred prior to the marriage (about 5 days before in Las Vegas), the trial court gave considerable weight to the effect this conduct had on the wife and the ongoing effect of the husband's relationship with the woman he met in Las Vegas. He eventually moved to California to be closer to her (and presumably farther away from his failed marriage).
In determining an appropriate division of assets and alimony in this very short-term marriage, the trial court judge stated that "[b]ut for the issue raised by [the] wife about her health, this would be an appropriate case to return each party to status quo ante by having them keep their separate assets and separate income." The Judge therefore ordered the husband to make a one-time payment of $29,500 accounting for moneys lost by the wife in selling her condo and other costs of separating, and one year of alimony at $2,100 per month.
The husband appealed claiming the Judge too heavily weighed the wife's health as a factor and the wife appealed claiming the Judge should not have limited the alimony to one year. The appeals court, not surprisingly, upheld the trial court's decision based on the great amount of discretion afforded the trial court by the property division and alimony statutes. While durational limits were often a problem under the old alimony statute, the court found that this limit was reasonable (and in light of the new statute where limits are more common, this is not surprising either).
Both parties also appealed the property division and were denied as well in the appeals court decision which was made on October 9, 2012 (four years after the initial indiscretion).
Here are just a few lessons, to take into the new year, that we think couples can learn from T.E. v. A.O.:
1. Even a two-month marriage can result in a four-year court battle if you choose litigation over other, better, forms of dispute resolution (such as mediation or collaborative law), and
2. Judges have broad discretion to make far-reaching decisions about your life in divorce cases, when you fail to settle those issues yourself, and
3. The Appeals Court often upholds that broad discretion, and
4. Spouses who leave their divorce decisions up to a Judge are often both unhappy with the result, and
5. Of course, What Happens in Vegas, really should Stay in Vegas.